Freda was transfixed at her sink unit as she washed the few pots. Her brain raced ahead. What was she going to do?
Her husband had lost his job six months previously, due to redundancy, and he had not been able to find another. The children were unaware that their father was no longer bringing in a wage, but they probably wouldn’t have understood anyway. Naturally they would be expecting the usual visit from Santa Claus.
There were four young children, two boys and two girls, and it was a struggle to clothe and feed them, let alone find money for presents. Just one of the girls was of school age.
Albert, her husband, was busy in his shed trying to ease the burden by creating toys for the kids for Christmas.
It had been a hard knock losing his job and now, after quizzing them, he had set about the task to fulfil their wishes.
He had already catered for the girls, by building them a doll's house, and was still working on the castle for the boys.
The thoughts raced around Freda’s brain as she dried her hands on the towel.
That’s it! She decided she would pawn her gold rings. Yes! This was one way to raise cash.
She would go to the pawnbroker and pawn her rings. It would, at least, help them through the festive period.
The following morning after seeing the girl off to school, Freda set off to the pawnbrokers in the town, leaving her husband to care for the younger ones.
On entering the shop she felt a little embarrassed, and was quite relieved to find herself to be the only customer.
Two men were chatting at the far end of the counter and both raised their heads as she entered. The younger of the two approached her with a cheery “Hello, and what can we do for you my dear.”
Freda’s face flushed.
She had never done this before and felt so nervous.
With a slight stutter she asked, “ I was… was wondering if you could err… help me. Could you…could you allow me some money for my rings?” She took the rings carefully out of her purse and placed them on the counter in front of the young man.
His colleague watched from where he was standing, at the far end of the counter.
The younger man took up the rings and studied them carefully.
“You won’t be able to ask a lot for these, my dear, he said, they are only nine carats and…!”
Freda raised her head and a teardrop traced its way down her cheek.
In a choked voice she murmured, “Anything please, just anything, to help me get by, and I will try to pay you back as quickly as I can.”
She dabbed her now pale face with a tissue, “Please…”
Her plea was heart rending
The older man moved forward and stood beside them.
Studying her face keenly for a moment he then exclaimed in a jovial manner. “Tell you what! You look like you could do with a nice cup of tea, I’ll bet you’ve had no breakfast either, have you?” He didn’t wait for a reply.
Turning to the young man. “Peter”, he said, “Ask Mrs Jones to make this young lady something nice to eat while I look at her rings.”
A look of bewilderment spread across Freda’s face, as reluctantly she stepped back a pace. “But why, What?”
Mrs Jones appeared from a doorway. “Come on Dearie! Have something to eat with me before he changes his mind. He must be getting soft , cos it’s near to Christmas.”
She put a motherly arm around Freda’s shoulders and gently ushered her towards the doorway.
Anxiously, Freda turned and looked at her rings on the counter.
“Will you…?” she asked.
“Yes,” said the older man. “Don’t worry about your rings dear, I will look at them now… If you don’t eat something soon, you look as if you will faint!”
This was Fred Parker, the owner of the pawnbrokers.
The two ladies left the room.
Fred picked up the rings, studying them casually. Then slowly, shaking his head, he picked up the telephone and began to converse with someone on the other end of the line.
“John! Do you remember our conversation from last evening? Yes! Yes, that is correct! Well I would like to do it today… Can you manage to set it up at such short notice? Great…I am most grateful…She will be there in about twenty minutes.
Peter will be with her, but not officially, if you understand what I mean,”
He chuckled as he put down the phone.
After a while, Freda emerged from the rear room, accompanied by Mrs Jones. Her face was more relaxed and she was smiling.
She moved along the counter and once again faced Fred.
“You now look much better,” he said, “It’s surprising what a nice cup of Mrs Jones tea can do.”
Freda nodded her head,
“I am feeling much better sir, and I was feeling a bit faint.”
Fred’s face took on a more serious look, as he placed the rings on the counter.
“I am afraid they are not very valuable,” he stated, “I can only allow you twelve pounds for the two.”
His face was sympathetic, “I am sorry.”
“It is better than nothing,” said Freda, her face once again breaking into a smile. “I would like to thank you for your kindness!”
The serious look was replaced with a smile as he passed her the cash.
“You won’t buy much with that,” he retorted. “Which stores are going to anyway?”
“To the supermarket,” she replied as she started towards the door.
“Wow!” he replied, “that is lucky! Peter is going in that direction if you would like a lift.”
Peter appeared and he too moved towards the door.
At the doorway, Freda turned. “I wish you a very merry Christmas kind sir. I will return as soon as I can to redeem the rings,” and with that, she was gone.
Peter dropped her off outside the store, waved goodbye and drove away.
Freda collected a trolley and entered the store.
“Must be careful how I spend,” she mused.
She shopped the isles, selecting the bare essentials that would help her over the Christmas period.
On completing her shopping she made her way to the checkout,
She glanced into the trolley,
Her purchases barely covered the base, but she smiled.
At least she had some food to feed the children.
The cost at the checkout came to eleven pound fifty, leaving change of fifty pence.
With a smile she picked up the fifty pence piece, kissed it, and promptly dropped it into the local charity collection box.
At that moment a fanfare of trumpets erupted, filling the supermarket with sound, while a voice hollered in the background.
Nearing the exit, on her way out of the store, she was approached by a security man..
Amid a hubbub of sounds the voice of the security man penetrated her ears, “Can I see your checkout receipt, madam?” he asked.
Freda stiffened, and the cold feeling of fear crept over her,
“What is wrong?” she asked anxiously as she passed him the till invoice.
Grinning store staff and customers, all keen to be on camera, which had appeared from nowhere, suddenly surrounded her.
The smiling store manager appeared on the scene
“Congratulations, madam. You are our one millionth customer.”
The applause was deafening as the manager shook her hand.
Freda was in a daze as the manager informed her she had won a prize.
She was allowed five minutes, in the store, in which to pick anything she desired and as much as she wished, in the time allowed.
Two burly members of staff appeared at her side with trolleys.
With tears of joy, Freda dashed around the store helped by her two assistants.
The trolleys were overflowing and her pleasure was intoxicating.
Slightly breathless, she tried hard to thank all.
Peter appeared by her side and the goods were loaded onto his van.
He smiled. “Wow! Aren’t you lucky that I was passing; I can now see you home safely? “
A further surprise awaited her!
Amid loud applause, the grinning manager presented her with a cheque for one thousand pounds, she being the millionth customer to shop the store.
She began to cry uncontrollably, and tears poured down her face.
The manager produced a large handkerchief and dabbed away her tears.
Then, with a final presentation, the manager presented her with a little gift box, with instructions that she must not open until she returned to her home.
That night, still filled with the excitement of the day, she opened the little box.
There, nestling in the red velvet lining, were both her rings, beautifully polished.
A little note accompanied the rings and a single line scrawled the message.
For A Very Special Christmas.